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Today, I had the pleasure and honor of ending our trip by attending an African First Ladies Summit entitled “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa” which was co-sponsored by our former First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush.  There are so few people in the world who know what it feels like to be married to the President of the United States, and Mrs. Bush has been so incredibly kind and welcoming to me and my family over the years.  So I was thrilled to have the chance to see her and her husband, President Bush, and to attend this very important event.

Upon arrival, I got to meet First Ladies from countries all across Africa who came here to Tanzania for this summit.  These women are doing extraordinary work in their home countries – from raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, to fighting violence against women, to working to end child hunger – and it was inspiring to learn about the difference they are making across this continent. 

I then had a lively discussion with Mrs. Bush about the impact that First Ladies can have on the important issues this conference is focused on: women’s health, women’s economic empowerment, and education for women and girls.  This last issue is particularly near and dear to my heart and has been part of my focus throughout this trip.

The fact is that too often, in developing countries, girls simply don’t get the chance to attend school.  In some parts of Africa, fewer than 20% of girls ever attend high school.

There are many reasons for this education gender gap.  Sometimes, girls’ families simply can’t afford the costs of sending them to school (for things like school fees, uniforms, or school supplies).  Or if parents don’t have enough money to send all their children to school, they’ll send their sons instead of their daughters.  In some parts of the world, girls are expected to get married when they’re very young – when they’re teenagers or even younger – or they have to work to help support their families, so they can’t go to school.  And in some places, a girl may have to walk many miles to attend the nearest school, and it may not be safe for her to do that by herself.

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